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Something Wild: Crossbills


As volunteers fan out across the state for the annual Christmas Bird Count, they’re likely to see two noteworthy species down from the north this year. Both are named "Crossbills" for unique bills that actually do cross, all the better to pry seeds from a conifer cone.

Crossbills are nomads, and for nomads it's all about following the food. While migratory birds follow predictable routes and timetables in spring and fall, nomads are unpredictable. If they find a region with abundant cones, they’ll nest and raise young even in the cold, snowy depths of winter.

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The White-winged Crossbill.

They’re distinctive beak makes them easy to identify, and they're a bit larger than our state bird, the purple finch. Another clue is the circle of cast off cone scales on the ground around their tree of choice (Crossbills can eat up to 3,000 seeds per day!) Red Crossbills prefer pine and hemlock seeds, while the White-winged Crossbill feasts on spruce and tamarack.

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